Phantom Thread

Jan 20, 2018

The acting and directing are heart-stopping.

Phantom Thread

Grade: A-

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood)

Screenplay: Anderson

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Leslie Manville (Another Year)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 10 min

by John DeSando

In Paul Thomas  Anderson’s Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis is like his protagonist, a celebrated  ’50’s  London fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock, because they both are meticulous and mercurial artists, whose creative livelihood requires complete devotion to the craft, without distraction. If anyone can challenge Gary Oldman’s front-running Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, it’s Day-Lewis.

Seeing an artist at work, in this case a designer sew designs and direct models, is where I find my most complete satisfaction. Reynolds is very much the genius micro-manager who guides each fold into perfection.  His personal life, however, is not so easily handled as he finds out when he falls in love, a design that brooks no competition.

Reynolds falls for a waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), whose stature and curves reach the perfection he seeks, but always, it seems from a design point of view but not predominantly a romantic one. She has a strong will, however, that seeks the place in his life where she is not just a lady in waiting.

After the electric first half, full of his genial moments and self-centered creativity, Phantom Thread settles into a melodrama losing sight of his genius in order to promote Alma’s machinations gaining control of his affective life. Although her methods are extreme and worthy of thriller status, the latter half of the film loses  excitement as it relies on formulaic circumstances of whether someone will die or not from the intrigue.

As he did in The Master and There Will be Blood, Thomas helms believably genial outsiders, who, like Woodcock, create beauty in the face of petty politics and personal liabilities. Although I was a bit disappointed in the melodrama, I was thrilled by DDL’s performance and PTA’s fluid, moody direction. There is very little out there to compete with their genius.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at